It’s a weeknight, you wander into your local club for your after work dance fix. Inside the dimly lit rooms the sweet sounds of salsa emerge, erasing the stories from that mid afternoon meeting. You slide into your dance shoes and let loose for a while. When you feel yourself getting into your happy dance bubble you saunter into the smaller, steamier room to get your kizomba and bachata fix for the night. The room seems to sway in a sea of connected calm. A gentleman you have never met asks you for a dance, and you accept. You are a few paces into the dance when you realise this guy can barely hold a beat. But, the dancefloor is no place for judgement, so you leave that aside and continue. You notice his hands are lingering a little too low down on your back, but obviously he’s a beginner, so you just put it down to poor technique. Then, just as you are trying to find your groove, despite your partner's lack of rhythm, you feel the unmistakable squeeze of his hand right around the fleshy part of your bum. A full on ass grab. You push the ‘gentleman’ away, too shocked to think clearly, and quickly walk off the dance floor. The man in question disappears into the sea of people swaying obliviously to the music. You are so shocked by what has just happened, your body, so fluid just moments ago, has become completely stuck. This is your happy, safe dance bubble, you come here every week, and nine times out of ten are met with nothing but joy and respect on the dance floor. Shock quickly gives way to anger, which blinds any ‘logical’ course of action. Tell the DJ? Tell the organiser? Warn your friends? Leave in a cloud of rage ! You can’t even see the guy, you barely saw his face, didn't catch his name, and what's more you are at party, dancing a very sensual and connected dance. And what's more than that? You are a woman. A woman living in the 21st century. To be ever so frank that means you are living in the midst of both ‘rape’ and ‘victim blaming’ culture.
I dance nearly every day of my life and this is one of four experiences I have had of sexual assault on the dance floor. Now considering how much I dance, that is probably a very low percentage. However, It is still four times too many.
The sweaty, sticky, dimly lit dance floor is actually just a little spicy microcosm of the outside world. Amongst the folk who go social dancing, I’d say you have a representative from just about every walk of life, every profession and every ‘type’ of person. And for the most part they are all grooving harmoniously together.
Having said that, we must remember that the outside world is not yet free of sexism, and neither, sadly, is the dance floor. These incidents are alarmingly common and they are the seeds of rape culture. Seemingly small actions which give the message that a woman's body is for taking without permission, plant seeds for devastating incidents to come.
Organisers, DJs and community members turning the fault back onto the woman encourage the vicious cycle of victim blaming. ‘You were dancing sexually, what do you expect?’, ‘are you sure he grabbed your bum?”, “Your dress is too short’, ‘ Why don’t you just tell security?’. All of these little narratives play into a bigger myth that sexual harassment is somehow the fault and sole responsibility of the victim.
Bachata and Kizomba are sensual, connected dances and that's what makes them beautiful. And don’t get me wrong, I love being able to express my femininity and sexuality through these dances. However, on the dance floor and in the outside world, I am all too aware that as a woman my sexuality is still being used as a marketing tool to pay someone's rent. I know that the female body has been so hypersexualised by society that I cannot afford to believe that these kind of situations will somehow be resolved in my favour.
I should be sexy to sell a product, a venue, a dance, *insert name of pretty much anything here*. But if I am accosted, or assaulted or abused, I know it will also be ‘my fault’ for ‘being sexy’.
So let's boil all of this down to some real talk. Sexual assault on the dance floor and within the dance community happens. This is unacceptable. Depending on where you are on the world your kizomba/ bachata/ zouk/ whatever dance scene may be reasonably small. If it is small and even it its not, then take advantage of this and take responsibility.
A community is a reflection of not only its leaders, but of every single member. Whether you are a dancer, promoter, DJ or teacher, don’t play dumb. Take this issue seriously and take real and bold action to stamp out this culture in your scene.
I’m not so hippie hopeful that I think we can stamp it out altogether in the big wide world, but amongst our caring and connected communities, I am sure we can turn this into nothing more than a rumour of the past. To do this we have to go to the source of the problem, which just incase wasn’t clear, was not my, or any lady's bunda.